I first saw the Toshiba R400 a couple of days before the International CES 2007, in Las Vegas, during a NDA covered presentation. It was exciting to see some new features being demonstrated with this tablet PC, including Microsoft Windows Vista support, Windows SideShow hardware, and a real demo of a wireless docking station.
Having had the opportunity to actually use the Toshiba R400 for a month or so, I can now share my impressions of it - and note how it has changed from the first time I saw it.
The Toshiba R400 is a convertible tablet PC. It means you can use it as a laptop, with full keyboard, or as a slate tablet PC with digital ink support. One of the new features I've noticed (not present in my old Toshiba M200 for example), is a "stop" that prevents the user rotating the screen in the wrong direction. I am sure many will welcome this small but useful feature.
Weighing only 1.8Kgs (3.79 lbs) the R400 is a laptop that can go almost anywhere you go. It's good-looking laptop, with Toshiba moving away from the dark or silver colours to an all-white design.
The machine was created to run Windows Vista from the ground up and is based on an Intel Core Duo U2500 running at 1.2 GHz. Not the fastest processor in the world, but good enough for running office and browser applications. I tried it with a trial version of Microsoft Office 2007 and it performed really well, even when synchronising a very heavy (1.5GB) Exchange mailbox.
Toshiba's wide-screen 12.1" display (1280x800, XGA) on the R400 is nice and bright, unlike its predecessor the M200. Since it relies on a built-in Graphics Media Accelerator 950 and uses shared memory (8MB to 256MB according to the specs), I wouldn't recommend 3D intensive applications. But it's enough to support the Windows Vista Aero interface, including Glass effects.
With an 80 GB hard drive (4200 RPM) it has enough room for personal and business documents, but I wouldn't mind a roomier drive. One of the features of this model, called HDD protection, will retract the heads in case of fall. The R400 come with sensors that will activate this protection if a sudden movement is detected.
One reason I installed Microsoft Office on the R400 was to test the Toshiba Personal Information Assistant. This external display uses the Windows SideShow technology, a secondary display that can show information generated by a small application.
The U.S. version of the Toshiba R400 comes with built-in 3G. The version I saw first had CDMA EV-DO built-in, but the Australian and New Zealand versions do not have this important feature. When talking to Toshiba I was told that time to market was essential and there was no time to get the built-in 3G adapter certified. Telstra's decision to drop CDMA this year may have influenced Toshiba's decision to drop the CDMA EV-DO adapter as well.
In theory the Toshiba Personal Information Assistant could interface with a Microsoft Exchange Server to receive e-mails even if the R400 is sleeping. I've posted about this feature in my personal blog. The problem is that it only works with the built-in 3G card. However, if you add a 3G PC Card, it won't work. In theory it offers an option to periodically synchronise with local mail stores, such as Microsoft Outlook but as it is, the Toshiba PIA doesn't do much.
But I tried - and with many different configurations, and the display never showed anything but the time and the current battery level. I was really excited on the possibilities, but this is the only thing that didn't work at all.
In terms of communications the R400 comes with a 10/100/1000 Mbps Ethernet port, Intel PRO/Wireless 3945ABG (802.11a/b/g) and Bluetooth V2.0 + EDR. There's no modem port. Toshiba has added a set of programs that help get connected and diagnose problems with network configurations. It also helps you find wireless routers through a graphical representation similar to a radar screen.
For security the R400 provides the user with a handy (no pun intended) fingerprint scanner. It's located just below the screen and quite accurate, with low false negatives.
A built-in microphone is present for your VoIP applications, but I really recommend using a headset, since the built-in speaker is too small and weak to be useful.
Thanks to Windows Vista, you can do much more with the "digital ink" than with XP. The support for this has vastly improved and it recognises handwriting even better than before. Manipulating on-screen objects has also improved: it's easier to select files with a digital pen and you get a snipping tool that allows you to copy, cut, edit parts of a screen for use in other programs.
Overall I am impressed with the performance of this tablet PC, its light weight is and looks. I am disappointed that Toshiba did not release it with built-in 3G here in New Zealand, and I am more disappointed that its Windows SideShow display doesn't work that well.
Light, small and beautiful
Windows SideShow does not work well
No built-in 3G (in New Zealand at least, check in your country)